An Innovative Approach to Outreach and Education
Coastal Delaware is both environmentally and recreationally rich, with seemingly endless outdoor opportunities such as boating, sailing, kayaking, crabbing, birding, and fishing. Its deep cultural history is rooted in farming, once the staple of life in the area.
Although farming is still a viable economic mainstay in coastal Delaware, it now shares the landscape with businesses and housing that support the growing tourism and retirement market. Farmland is rapidly being replaced by parking lots, rooftops, cars, and lawns. According to the Delaware Population Consortium, the state of Delaware has increased in population by 18% in the past decade, with the coastal county of Sussex growing by 38%.
As a result, protecting Delaware’s water resources becomes more challenging each year. To complicate matters, our nation’s population as a whole is becoming more and more disconnected from our natural environment. In fact, if asked where stormwater runoff goes after it reaches the storm drain, most people may respond, “It goes to the water treatment plant.”
For this reason, educating the public about pollutants contained within stormwater runoff remains a vital yet daunting task. We need to find ways to connect with individuals on a more personal level to correct misconceptions about stormwater runoff and inform people that what goes down the storm drain eventually flows to the nearest waterway. In Delaware, runoff drains to the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, or the Chesapeake Bay, where we spend our summer days swimming and fishing.
|Earth Day, April 22, 2007
In the spring of 2007, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) piloted a project in Lewes, DE, to affix nearly 500 medallions to storm drains throughout the city. We felt that this would be an effective and interactive approach to educating volunteers about issues related to polluted stormwater runoff, while also creating awareness among the general public and other tourists who visit the city in the summer months.
Step 1: Obtaining Funding
The first step in planning a storm drain marking event is to obtain funding well in advance. The Lewes project was funded through the EPA (Section 319, Clean Water Act) and administered through the DNREC Nonpoint Source Program.
The total project cost approximately $6,000, divided as follows: color brochures, $1,500; public mailing, $1,500; giveaway totes, $1,000; medallions and glue, $1,000; and data collection, $1,000. Funding was matched by staff time spent organizing the project. Do not be discouraged by this figure if you do not have the means to obtain substantial funding. Cost can be greatly reduced by simply substituting or eliminating from the list. For example, use black-and-white mailings and instructional brochures or recycle small shoeboxes to carry supplies instead of purchasing totes.
Step 2: Planning
The second step is to create a work group composed of interested agencies and stakeholders that can contribute to the process, from technical knowledge to outreach and education experience. For the Lewes project, we created a committee including representatives from five organizations.
The Delaware Sediment & Stormwater Program took the lead, seeking funding, managing the project, and keeping the committee within a set timeline. The City of Lewes Board of Public Works was key in the town approval and planning process. Another important entity was the Delaware Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials program, an organization that educates local decision makers on natural resource–based planning.
The Center for the Inland Bays was another crucial player, as this nonprofit organization promotes the wise use of the Inland Bays watersheds in Delaware and had ample experience in outreach and education. The University of Delaware Water Resources Agency (WRA) lent its expertise to the project, drawing on its mission to provide technical assistance relating to water resources in Delaware and the Delaware Valley through public service, education, and research. The DNREC Nonpoint Source Program, the entity that granted funding, also assisted with project organization and implementation.
We held our first organizational meeting nearly nine months before event day. The purpose was to raise environmental awareness, so we set the date on the weekend of Earth Day, April 22, 2007. A lot goes into planning a storm drain marking event, from approving the efforts through the mayor and city council to publicizing and organizing the event. Time of year is also crucial, because the temperature must be above 55 degrees Fahrenheit for the stormwater medallions to properly adhere to a dry surface.
How do you efficiently coordinate an unknown number of volunteers to mark the storm drains throughout the city in one day in an orchestrated manner? To aid with this challenge, we decided to use geographic information system (GIS) technology. Global positioning system coordinates were collected for all storm drains throughout the city using a MobileMapper unit.
With no external antennae, data were accurate to 2 or 3 meters, suitable for the volunteers to locate the storm drains. Using these data, we generated maps that displayed the storm drains in groups of 20 to 30, also taking walking distance and street crossings into consideration. Overall, 24 unique maps were created through volunteer services provided by the University of Delaware Water Resources Agency. Maps displayed the storm drains, streets, and the most recent aerial photos available.
Step 3: Choosing Your Markers
The next step is to choose and purchase storm drain markers. We selected an attractive medallion that states, “No Dumping. Drains to Bay,” made by das Manufacturing. We chose this company because, unlike most companies that rely on caulk guns for glue, it provides glue in small toothpaste-like tubes, a volunteer-friendly approach. In addition, on the back of each marker is a very straightforward pattern showing where to apply the glue.
|Storm drain marking
When choosing a marker, do your research and consider who will be applying the medallions. I do not recommend using metal medallions for any volunteer group. Although they are highly durable, installing these types of medallions can be time-consuming and involve drilling and bolting, not a volunteer-friendly method. In addition, different brackets are needed for different types of storm drains.
Some companies provide glue for their metal markers. However, the glue may not hold on a vertical surface due to the weight of the medallion. You might even ask the manufacturer for samples so you can test the product before purchasing a large quantity of medallions.
We tested several products in the fall prior to our event to determine which held better through the winter months. We even applied several markers to a damp surface to see how well they would adhere, although product manufacturers recommend adhering only to a completely dry surface. We also suggest experimenting using different amounts of glue so you can demonstrate the proper amount for your volunteers.
In addition to the markers, we created a one-page color brochure that was mailed to approximately 3,000 residents. An eight-page brochure was also developed for volunteers showing how to properly mark the storm drains. The brochure also described the reasons for marking the storm drains.
Step 4: The Event
After nine months of planning, Earth Day finally arrived. Registration for the event was overwhelmingly successful, with more than 65 participants from local organizations including the Zwaanendael Club, Lewes in Bloom, Lewes Yacht Club, Surf Riders (local surfing group), Lewes High School Honors Program, and local consulting firm Envirotech.
|Volunteers received maps showing storm drain locations and aerial photos.
The weather was sunny and 75 degrees; the day could not have been better. We separated volunteers into teams of three or four and allowed them to choose which area of the city they would like to mark. Some volunteers wanted to stay in their own neighborhoods, while others had small children and wanted to be in quiet residential areas.
Each team received a tote containing all materials needed to apply their markers, including orange safety vests, brochures, garbage bags, gloves, brooms, bottled water, and an official letter from the agency. We presented an introductory session to the group on the hows and whys of the effort and explained that what goes down the storm drain eventually reaches the Delaware Bay. We then gave explicit instructions on how to properly adhere the markers. Before volunteers set out, we recorded the map ID number referencing back to their location so the volunteers could be located in case of emergencies.
Within 90 minutes, nearly all 500 storm drains in the city of Lewes had been marked. Most participants commented on the success of the event and the amazing organization. The pilot project was a success in every way, initiating conversations about the issues at hand and involving community members of all ages in an effort to increase awareness about polluted stormwater runoff. Volunteers also noted that some storm drains needed repair or other attention. This information, along with all GIS data, was given to City of Lewes Board of Public Works for future use.
Since the Lewes storm drain marking project, the effort has been duplicated in other communities in Delaware, including Milton and the neighborhood of Southbridge located in South Wilmington. In October 2007, 12 teenagers not only marked the Southbridge neighborhood’s storm drains with medallions but also cleaned leaves and trash from nearly 150 drains to help prevent street flooding. This enthusiastic team is part of the Southbridge HOPE Commission Youth Employment Program, an initiative aimed at encouraging inner-city high school students to become more involved with their communities.
If you are interested in coordinating a similar effort, here are a few tips to help get you started:
- Community involvement is vital. Involve town officials early.
- Create a committee of organizations that can bring something positive to the table.
- Present the idea to the local governing board for its approval.
- For larger events, maps are crucial for smooth organization.
- Check with the city to be sure that there are no other events scheduled on the day of your event, such as parades, fire hydrant flushing, or school testing.
- Have a rain date and publish it.
- If adequate funding exists, create a brochure about the project and mail it to all city residents in advance.
- Hang signs in local businesses, and put a press release in the newspapers.
- Have ample supplies, and make the project easy and comfortable for the volunteers.
- Involve the press. The more attention your project gets, the more you have reached your goal of getting your message out.
- Take lots of pictures on the day of the event.
- If possible, use several public works vehicles for safety.
- Have volunteers check in when finished to be sure that everyone has returned.
- Last but not least, have fun!
For More Information
To obtain the Delaware Storm Drain Marking guidebook for volunteers, please visit our Web site at http://www.swc.dnrec.delaware.gov/SedimentStormwater.htm
or e-mail Beth Krumrine at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Author's Bio: Beth Krumrine is an environmental scientist with the DNREC Division of Soil and Water Conservation.